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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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June 2003

Making a right turn

From road construction to street sweeping, rules
target transportation.

Natasha Kassulke


Alternate side of the street parking can be frustrating for drivers. Yet, it is not just for winter plowing any more – street sweepers need it too.

The results of traffic "bits of tires, brakes, rusty metal and vehicle fluids" cause polluted runoff and need to be swept up just like leaves and grass clippings, explains DNR storm water program coordinator Eric Rortvedt. Less visible are sooty exhaust particles that settle out of the air and are carried to lakes and rivers in rain and snowmelt runoff.

Controlling polluted runoff from cars and trucks goes beyond containing the litter in parking lots and malls. Six lane highways make the morning and afternoon commutes less congested, but with more pavement comes more runoff. Road construction projects are regulated under either chapter Trans 401 (Construction Site Erosion Control and Storm Water Management Procedures for Department Actions) or chapter NR 216 (Storm Water Discharge Permits) of the Wisconsin Administrative Code.

In 2002, both rules were revised to meet the new standards.

NR 151 contains transportation performance standards for roads, public mass transit systems, highways, public airports, railroads, public trails, and more with some exceptions. The standards target the routes both during and after construction. Wisconsin Department of Transportation's (WisDOT) Trans 401 code applies to projects that WisDOT directs or supervises; the DNR's NR 216 code applies to other transportation construction projects, which are generally smaller private or locally funded projects.

Leaves should not be placed within the street or curb and gutter area until municipal roadside collection will occur. Leaves placed in a street can end up in storm sewers and flow to area waterways, where they break down and feed algae. Leaves clogging storm drains can also cause flooding during rainfalls. © Jean Meyer
Keep leaves out of the street or curb and gutter area until municipal roadside collection occurs. Leaves placed in a street can end up in storm sewers and flow to area waterways, where they break down and feed algae. Leaves clogging storm drains can cause flooding during rainfalls.

© Jean Meyer

Through the process of designing and building transportation routes, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and WisDOT work together to control erosion at waterway crossings and potential impacts to wetlands, fisheries and endangered species.

Previously, erosion controls were required where five or more acres of land were disturbed. This threshold was lowered to one acre on March 10, 2003 to meet federal storm water regulations. These rules even apply to the construction of the state Ice Age trail and other recreational trail construction where one or more acres of land are disturbed, explains Rortvedt.

The goal is to reduce sediment carried in runoff by 80 percent. In rural areas, this goal can usually be met by constructing grass swales as a part of the highway drainage system.

Working together, WisDOT, the Department of Natural Resources and others have developed and agreed upon the use of a "channel and slope erosion control matrix," to select proper erosion control practices.

"We've agreed where to seed and mulch," Rortvedt says, "and where to put down an erosion control mat, ditch checks (hay bales and such), riprap and other measures."

"We've streamlined the process," Rortvedt says. "We've made it possible to pick the proper practice based on soil type, slope of the land and slope length."

Additional requirements include the proper use and storage of chemicals, cement and other materials; minimizing sediment discharge from de-watering; sediment cleanup; and protecting sewer inlets.

Kevin Kirsch, an engineer in the DNR Bureau of Watershed Management, recently presented some 60 consultants and municipalities with the new erosion control tools being developed to implement the new rules.

"Everyone was impressed that the tools are working and were even more impressed so by the level of cooperation between WisDOT and DNR," Kirsch says. "Both organizations came to the table to make the standards work. I would like to point out that WisDOT has stepped up and made valuable contributions. WisDOT staff, particularly John Voorhees (WisDOT District 1 storm water engineer) and Gil Layton (chairperson of WisDOT's Erosion Control and Storm Water Committee) have provided a great deal of assistance and expertise in updating DNR erosion control standards."

At a recent EPA conference in Chicago, it became clear that Wisconsin is at the forefront of erosion control and much of that can be attributed to WisDOT, Kirsch says.

In developed areas, the rules aim to reduce runoff from cities by 40 percent by the year 2013. This standard applies to both WisDOT and locally operated transportation systems within those areas.

Under the new rules, WisDOT is also responsible for educating its staff and contractors about properly using pesticides, road salts and other de-icing materials as well as maintaining vehicles to prevent pollution. Transportation activities by others are regulated by the Department of Natural Resources. Rortvedt estimates that about 250 Wisconsin municipalities need a storm water permit to take steps to reduce the polluted runoff going into their storm sewer systems.

Funding is available to help municipalities pay for improvements in urban areas. However, erosion and storm water control costs for new construction are to be included as a construction cost for land developers and generally is about one to three percent of the overall project cost, Rortvedt says.

The DNR offers grants for local efforts to control polluted runoff. Eligible construction projects include buffer areas, detention ponds and even the purchase of high-efficiency street sweeping equipment.

"DNR and WisDOT are on the same page," Rortvedt says. "During construction the goal is to minimize the amount of land that is disturbed and the time that land is left in an unstable condition."

Natasha Kassulke is the associate editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.